How do we make sense out of the observation that humans decline in the capacity for life-engagement faster and farther than what is ideal and possible given our state of knowledge on the subject. I’m on a mission to unravel this curiosity, and create ideas and environments that supports maximizing quality of life beyond 50. The goal of course is to provide that ultimate road map for maximum, not merely acceptable, “aliveness” for as long as our lives last. This is the reinvention of age.
Toward that end, I would like to present the merits of ceasing entirely any reference to the number of times that the earth has orbited the sun as an expression of who we are. That is precisely what happens every time we employ chronological age in any discussion about ourselves or others.
Chronological age is a junk value. Yet it is inevitably one of the first things that we want to know about anyone over 40. That indicates a flaw in our mindset that we can correct if we choose.
This has actually been practiced in the past, but only on an individual basis and mostly by those wanting to avoid the stigma of age. As a distinction, I’m not suggesting we eliminate the use of chronological age as a way of hiding any truth about ourselves, rather a means to focus attention on things that are actually important about who we are.
What we’re really attempting to gauge by learning someone’s chronological age is their “state of aliveness”; an indication of the presumed usefulness and probable future of that individual. That alone sounds pretty shallow and self-serving, but it gets worse. There is a huge range of aliveness among people of any given chronological age; more so now than ever before. Chronological age is a holdover from a time when the universal requirements of life also supported aliveness. In those times, the state of aliveness in people of similar chronological age was also fairly similar; therefore there was a correlation between age and usefulness.
However, since modern life does not support aliveness, our state of that quality these days is largely determined by our lifestyle choices; which accounts for the wide disparity in our conditions at any given age. Chronological age benefits those who have failed to support their aliveness because society’s expectations for someone of that age is probably a bit higher than the reality present in that person. In the same way, it hurts those who have ultimately supported their state of aliveness because society’s expectations of them will likely be a bit lower than the reality; often quite a bit lower. Additionally, as our preconceived notions for the state of aliveness present in any given chronological number drops along with the benchmark for “normal” in that age, each of us has the potential to outperform the norm more than underperform our perception of normal.
Also consider this: it is inherently selfish to want to know the age of another person. Aliveness is made up of all manner of qualities in an individual that shapes our expectations of that person. Contrast that with not knowing their numerical age, which forces you to get to know that person for who they really are, and that is a fair bit more demanding than what you’re used to.
The ageless paradigm rewards those who support their own aliveness, as it forces the observer to gauge on the basis of real qualities rather than historical norms. Under the chronological age paradigm, those who make good (and difficult) lifestyle choices will be viewed on that basis and will be deemed to be the most alive if, and only if, that is what they actually exhibit through observable indicators.
This tendency to believe that it is somehow important to know a person’s chronological age is merely a holdover from an old paradigm whose time has past. In light of that, it’s understandable but it ultimately fails to fulfill the promise that it once had. In addition, it is patently discriminatory—and frankly, more than a little insulting—to an entire class of people; the very people whose responsible lifestyle choices are the ones that we want to encourage in our society. Those are the people who are the least demanding of society’s resources in support of their life.
So the question becomes: how do we make this widely understood in modern life? As with most things as thoroughly entrenched as this, it’s going to take some real dedication to the cause. But it’s been done before: the public’s attitude toward cigarette smoking is a good example. And it can be done again.
Age minus the number is who you really are. Age identified by the number says nothing about you, other than something that we would all like least to be associated with in modern times: the stigma of being “normal”.